Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Designing a Book Cover

In yesterday’s comments, a reader asked how the process of designing a book cover works. And am I allowed much input into the process? I figured the question was good for a follow-up blog post.

I can’t speak for all houses. I can only tell you how it works for me at Zondervan. I know many authors don’t enjoy anywhere near the amount of input I’m granted at Zondervan. I also know authors who do. It really varies house to house.

The process begins with the marketing form that Zondervan sends me—more than a year in advance of the book’s release. The form asks for the premise of the book, a list of main characters, setting, and any pertinent places or items that might be used for the cover of the book. It also asks for any ideas I have for the cover. In the completion of this form, I also write the back cover and catalog copy for the book.

For Crimson Eve, I received this form in August. Crimson Eve will release September 7, 2007, and is considered an October publication. (The release date is the day the books start to ship from the warehouse. The publication date is always the following month since it takes a few weeks for books to reach bookstores and show up on shelves.)

The marketing form is sent out so early due to Zondervan’s catalog schedule. Z does three catalogs a year, one every four months. And the catalogs way ahead of time because books are sold into stores early. For example, my recent release, Violet Dawn, shipped in August for a September pub date. But the Zondervan salespeople learned about the book way back in their sales meeting in March. After that, they went out and started pitching the book to booksellers and taking orders. So even though Violet Dawn appeared in the September-December 2006 catalog, all information about it had to be ready during the first four months of the year.

So I filled out the form for Crimson Eve in August. I suggested a crimson sunset on a lake, explaining the description of this found in the first chapter. Other than that basic thought, I had few ideas. Then I didn’t hear anything until a few weeks ago, when the cover designer (an in-house Zondervan employee) contacted me. Did I have any new/additional ideas for the cover before he went into the design phase? We e-mailed back and forth a few times and had one phone call as I told him my new thoughts. Curt (the designer) is absolutely wonderful to work with, and always listens to my ideas. But then, inevitably, he comes up with something I never would have thought of—something capturing the aura I wanted, but way beyond my abilities as a non-artist to create.

However, Curt does not initially create just one “comp.” He creates multiple ideas—perhaps three or four. Then he shows them around to marketing and design folk at Z until a consensus is reached on the best design. He may tweak that design some, based on feedback, then he'll send it to me for approval. Often I’ll ask for a few tweaks myself. A different color, a change to one graphic—something like that. Curt makes the changes, and we go back and forth a few times until we’re both happy with the design.

For the Crimson Eve cover, however, I didn’t ask for a single change.

It does help that I have years of experience (before I took to writing fiction) in creating marketing pieces for companies. I worked with a graphic artist for enough years to gain a good sense of fonts and colors, and the underlying “feel” of a design. I’m not an artist—I can’t create the product. But I can look at the product and know if it works or not. All this to say—if I had no idea what I was talking about and demanded crazy changes, I don’t think I’d win out in the end. But Curt and I make a good team, and it’s very gratifying to see his willingness to work with me.

Crimson Eve is the third in a series. Just as I have to stick with the town and characters I’ve created in previous books, Curt has to create a design that’s in harmony with the previous books in the series. His way cool idea for Violet Dawn of having tree limbs wind through my name has been carried out in all the books. This feature was prominent in Violet Dawn, way less in Coral Moon, and somewhere in between those two extremes in Crimson Eve.

Sometimes a design can be “done” only to be knocked down at the last minute from some other source. Many of you will remember that Violet Dawn’s original agree-upon design had a way cool snake coiled around the n in Dawn. Then the saleswoman who represents the big general accounts like Barnes and Nobel and Borders said, “Nix the snake. My customers won’t like it.”

Sales won. Snake bit the dust.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the insights, Brandilyn. There's so much more to writing than just sitting in a chair at a keyboard.

Anonymous said...

This is all very interesting, Brandilyn. I love the cover of your books and it's good that as a writer you have some say in your book cover.
Curt does an excellent job of creating a photographic atmosphere for your book. It helps set the mood, I think.
Happy Tuesday!

Anonymous said...

I really like the color schemes. I also like that you can read the titles. Titles are very important to me. On some book covers it seems like you have to search for them. I've found that people who care about books as a whole will remember the author's name if they liked the book as well as the title. Others who read just for fun/pleasure might not remember either and will just be able to tell you about the story. So to me, I'd rather be able to read/find the title of the book instead of the author's name because I won't forget the author's name.

Anonymous said...

This is all very interesting, Brandilyn. I love the cover of your books and it's good that as a writer you have some say in your book cover.
Curt does an excellent job of creating a photographic atmosphere for your book. It helps set the mood, I think.
Happy Tuesday!

Julie Carobini said...

Great info, Brandilyn! It's interesting to me because I didn't have much input into the cover design (as opposed to other aspects, such as back cover copy). Maybe that's because I'm graphically-challenged, lol. Thankfully, though, the designer at Bethany did a FABULOUS cover for Chocolate Beach. I couldn't be happier.

Bonnie S. Calhoun said...

This is very cool, Brandilyn. Did Curt also do the Hidden Faces series? All of your covers seem to have an equally high level of coolness :-)

Grady Houger said...

Thanks for answering my questions Brandilyn! It fascinates me to know more of the hows and whys of the publishing industry.

Anonymous said...

i really like all the covers for the book. love the color schemes. thanks for telling about this process, i've always wondered about it. i'm also glad you're the type of author that actually has a description on the back cover. i hate it when i'm looking at a book, not knowing anything about the story, flip over to read a summary on the back and all there is a huge photo of the author. that does not help me in any way to buy the book if i have no idea what it's about.

Dineen A. Miller said...

I just love the way the branches invade the type of your name on each cover. Love the consistency and mood created in all three.